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There’s nothing like spending five nights in Kyoto, but, truth be told, no day is truly a day off. Today was no exception. Once again, we took the train out of the city, this time for a tour of Japan’s largest castle, Himeji. The shinkansen Hikari took us to the city of the same name in about an hour.

The castle is nicknamed the “White Heron Castle” because of its bright white color, but also due to its alleged resemblance to this bird. It’s the most visited castle in Japan and a popular filming location for movies and series. It’s included in the list of “Three Famous Castles,” “Twelve Original Castles,” “Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s Residences,” and who knows what else… In short, it’s a must-see/must-visit/must-do-before-you-die, and if you’ve been to Japan but haven’t seen Himeji, then it doesn’t count. 😀 We’ve checked it off our list.

Himeji embodies typical Japanese castle architecture. They used to build the “right” castles from wood on a stone base, surrounded by thick walls, sometimes even with castle moats, along which guard towers stood, leading to the castle were several gates, and inside the residential buildings housed lords, commoners, and soldiers. The cherry on top was the main castle tower (keep), the most prominent and best-defended part of the castle.

The extensive complex of 83 buildings at Himeji stands on solid stone foundations, and a labyrinth of paths leads to the main tower to confuse and slow down potential attackers.

There’s not much to see inside; bare walls, bare floors, the higher you go, the narrower the spaces become, and here and there you can see a display case with information about the construction or modernization of the castle. It’s said that you don’t see much inside Karlštejn Castle… well, I think compared to Himeji, Karlštejn is a full-blown chocolate factory. But from the highest tower here, you do get a nice view of the surroundings.

Take notice of those strange black creatures on the tops of the roofs – they look like the roofs have horns.

Meet Shachihoko. A mythical sea creature with the body of a fish and the head of a tiger, which is supposed to protect the building from destruction by fire. People believed that in case of a fire outbreak, Shachihoko would spew a stream of water from its body or summon rain clouds. It’s not the first animal adorning roofs as a protector against fire; anyway, this fish-tiger makes more sense than dragons.

After visiting Himeji, we took a short walk to the nearby Kokoen Gardens, from where there’s a beautiful view of the entire castle structure (see the introductory photo).

Today was a bit calmer, more restful; there’s no need for hardcore sightseeing every day, sometimes you need to slow down to prevent mental overload. But satisfying the stomach, that’s a different story. So, we ended the trip in the company of tempura (pieces of fish/shrimp/vegetables fried in batter) and tonkatsu (Japanese-style schnitzel), ordering only those two black square plates. I’m truly fascinated by the Japanese automatism of adding rice, miso soup, sauces, seaweed, tea, water to everything… oh, and we got all of that at once.



  • The hype is real around the series Blue Eye Samurai; you’ll see the conquest of the “right” castle, labyrinth of paths, several gates, main keep…
  • A dragon on the roof as defense against fire makes sense if you’re fighting fire with fire 🙂 (and though we’re in Japan here, for example, Koreans have a habit of driving out heat with heat, meaning having boiling soup in the middle of a sweltering summer, to each their own taste…)



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